Tick trails: the role of online recreational trail reviews in identifying risk factors and behavioral recommendations associated with tick encounters in Indiana

BMC Public Health. 2021 May 13;21(1):908. doi: 10.1186/s12889-021-10940-4.


Background: Recreational trails abound across the United States and represent high risk areas for tick exposure. Although online reviews represent a rich source of user information, they have rarely been used in determining the risk of tick exposure during recreational trail use. Based on online user reviews and comments, the purpose of this study was to determine risk factors and behavioral recommendations associated with tick encounters (Tick Presence) on recreational trails in the state of Indiana, U.S.

Methods: We reviewed 26,016 user comments left on AllTrails.com for 697 Indiana trails. Reviews were evaluated to determine Tick Presence/Absence, the total number of Tick Presence Reviews per trail, and multiple trail and user behavioral characteristics. We used hot spot (Getis-Ord Gi*) analysis to test the hypothesis of whether there are clusters in the number of Tick Presence Reviews. Pearson chi-square tests of independence evaluated whether tick presence was associated with several trail characteristics. Finally, negative binomial regression evaluated the strength of the association between the number of Tick Presence Reviews and several trail characteristics.

Results: Tick Presence was recorded at 10% (n = 65) of trails and occurred most frequently in May. Hot spot analysis revealed statistically significant clusters of Tick Presence Reviews on trails in the Southern Indiana State Region. Results of χ2 tests indicated significant associations between Tick Presence Reviews and (a) State Region and (b) Land Management Type; Mann-Whitney U tests detected significant differences in Tick Presence Reviews based on Trail Length and Elevation Gain. Subsequent results of a negative binomial regression model indicated that Southern Indiana State Region, Federal and Private Land Management Type, and Elevation Gain were factors significantly associated with Tick Presence Reviews. Content of user reviews indicated several behaviors employed to prevent tick encounters, particularly Repellent Application and Recreational Deterrence; 25% included a behavior Recommendation to others.

Conclusions: Online, user-generated trail reviews have the potential to serve as rich data sources for identifying recreational trails, where 1) the risk of tick exposure is great, 2) more robust active tick and tick-borne pathogen surveillance may be warranted, and 3) tailored prevention interventions are needed.

Keywords: Protective behavior; Recreation; Risk factor; Tick exposure; User behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Humans
  • Indiana
  • Recreation
  • Risk Factors
  • Ticks*